Bakeyah Nelson, executive director of Air Alliance Houston, testified Feb. 26 at a Congressional hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency’s enforcement efforts. The hearing, organized by the U.S. House Commerce and Energy Committee’s oversight subcommittee, was the first of the new Congress to scrutinize the EPA’s poor enforcement record under President Trump.

In the testimony, Dr. Nelson shared her concerns about air pollution in Texas and highlighted how the low levels of enforcement by the EPA and the Texas Commission for Environmental Quality are endangering the health of local communities in Houston. 

Her testimony highlighted Hurricane Harvey as a cautionary tale about the vulnerability of millions of Americans who live near chemical plants.

Lifelong Galena Park resident Juan Flores, who works as a community organizer for Air Alliance Houston, said he and his neighbors smelled the strong odor of petroleum for several days after Harvey”, Dr. Nelson described the experiences of local residents in her comments. “People complained about the extreme stench, burning eyes and more. They closed doors and windows, but many still could not escape the odor, Flores said.”

Dr. Nelson underlined the critical role robust enforcement plays in protecting communities of color and low wealth as hazardous facilities are disproportionately concentrated in these neighborhoods.

“Years ago, EPA had recognized the need to make preventing chemical disasters a national enforcement initiative – but communities in Houston haven’t seen EPA make good on that promise”, Dr. Nelson said.“Even worse, after committing to increase enforcement resources to the most overburdened communities in EJ2020 Action Agenda, EPA’s strategic plan for environmental justice, the agency is instead turning its back on communities that need enforcement the most, like Houston.”

For the full video of the oral testimony, please visit here (Dr. Nelson’s testimony begins at 2:26:05).

In addition to the verbal testimony limited to five minutes, Dr. Nelson also submitted a written testimony, available here.

Read also a new report published by the Environmental Integrity Project, Less Enforcement: Communities at Risk,” which spotlights 10 examples of major violations and pollution releases across the US that threaten public health and are still waiting for enforcement under the Trump Administration.

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